The huge technological advances that we have seen over the past few decades have changed the world for the better in many ways. It would be wrong to say that we have all benefitted equally from these changes, however. Millions of people, particularly in the less developed markets, have scarcely benefitted at all. And even in the developed markets women are not reaping the same benefits of the technological revolution as men.
Unless we are very careful, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is only going to make matters worse. Already, there have been instances of algorithms targeting men, rather than women, with job ads for high-paying roles. And as the use of AI becomes more sophisticated and widespread, women could find that they are inadvertently discriminated against in a host of different situations, ranging from their ability to get a mortgage through to their access to healthcare services. We have to wrestle with this issue if we are to avoid programming bias into our future.
So, in today’s Transformative Age, how do we ensure women belong in every aspect of business? In theory, the simple solution is to hire more female computer scientists, data analysts and developers. Yet, the reality is more complicated.
Over time the technology industry has consistently failed to attract and retain female talent and its reputation as a male-dominated industry has solidified, rather than subsided. Since women are excluded from technology, they pursue careers in other industries instead, which only serves to exacerbate the problem. The stats say it all: Today, women hold a smaller share of US computer science jobs than they did in the 1980s.
Here are three ways we as leaders of organizations can ensure that women belong equally:
1. Creating and investing in programs
This International Women’s Day, leaders across business, government and the not-for-profit sector should consider how we can find long-term solutions that encourage more women to pursue careers in science, technology, economics and mathematics (STEM). It’s been long discussed that we need to work with schools, universities and providers of employer training programs to establish how STEM can be made more appealing to girls and young women. We also need to consider how we can equip girls and women with the skills and experience that they need to flourish in STEM careers. But we still need more programs. At EY, we have a variety of school leaver programs and our STEM Advantage, a not-for-profit program that prepares and inspires young women and underserved minorities of all genders to pursue STEM careers through paid internships, mentorships and scholarships.
Getting more women to embark on STEM careers so that we widen the talent pool is just the start of the process, however. We also need to support them to remain in those careers – all the way through to retirement, if they wish. At present, STEM is known for its worryingly high female drop-out rate. In fact, according to the US Center for Talent Innovation, women are more than twice as likely as men to quit the tech industry. Meanwhile, in 2015, an Australian study found that almost a third of women employed in STEM fields expected to leave their job within five years due to a lack of career advancement and professional development opportunities.